I've noticed three things about our former Collegewise students when they describe their college experiences. If you ask some current college students about their collegiate lives, you'll likely find the same three similarities.
1. Almost all of them are happy in college.
Statistics show that most students like their colleges, even those who are attending schools that weren't their first choice. You are, after all, with a bunch of 18-22 year-olds and your most important responsibilities are to learn and have fun. College is a pretty good arrangement, no matter where you are.
2. When pressed, most of them would admit that their colleges aren't necessarily perfect.
Why do marriage vows include the phrase, "For better or for worse"? Because life isn't easy and perfect every day, and college is no different. Wherever you go to college, you have to work to make the experience great for you. The same will be true of your jobs after college, your relationships, and anything else of value in your life. You can't reasonably expect that your college will be perfect every day for four years.
3. Almost none of them perfectly articulated their current college existence back in high school when they were researching colleges.
Some seventeen year-olds can describe their ideal future college experience in perfect detail; most can't. You likely won't know what you love most about college until you get there. So unless your 21 year-old self has a time machine to come back and advise you during your high school years, you're going to have match your college research with some gut instinct to pick the right schools. This can be difficult for parents to watch (especially for those parents who enjoy making spreadsheets to compare campus characteristics–we know who you are!). But the nation's collegiate youth would have collapsed in despair long ago if great college experiences could only be born from a spreadsheet-based audit.
Yes, you can (and should) take your college search seriously. You're
talking about a four-year expenditure of time and money, one that no
reasonable student should take lightly. Don't apply to schools just
because your friends are choosing them or because they rank somewhere
on the US News list. Think about yourself, how you like to learn and
what type of college environment might be good for you. It's the way any mature student should approach such a big decision.
But no matter how much you research, visit and evaluate colleges during your search, you won't find a perfect one that will guarantee you a flawless four years. Wherever you go, your college experience will be a work in progress, one that you'll have to work to make work for you. That might seem scary, but once you accept these truths, it takes some pressure off.
If you like different colleges for very different reasons, that's
OK. If you visit a college you thought you loved and leave thinking it
should come off your list, that's OK. If you fall for a college your
friends have never heard of, that's OK. The process doesn't have to be
rational all the time.
And if you don't get into your school that you were sure was meant to be your collegiate soul mate, that's OK, too. You'll find four-years of love (and a lifetime worth of college memories) somewhere else.
Great college matches are always works in progress